Pope Francis, addressing Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán and other government officials, has warned of the dangers of rising nationalism. He asked the Hungarian government, which is following a populist-nationalist course, to open its borders to migrants from Africa and the Middle East as “true Christians”. He condemned the strict pursuit of his own national interests, a point on which he often clashed with Orbán.
The pope called for the spirit of post-World War II Europe to be reclaimed, with countries looking beyond their national borders to realize a greater idea together.
The head of the Roman Catholic Church also reflected in his speech on the war in Ukraine, which borders Hungary. He denounced the “childish belligerence” and asked to come up with “creative ways” to end the war.
Relations with Orbán are strained. In the past, the pope has made no secret of his displeasure with Hungary’s refusal to take in non-Western asylum seekers. After the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Hungary did open its border to Ukrainian refugees.
But the Hungarian government is not providing military aid to Kyiv, maintaining strong economic ties with Russia and denying NATO access to Hungarian airspace to deliver supplies to Ukraine.
Earlier today, the 86-year-old pope arrived in Budapest for his first foreign visit since being hospitalized with bronchitis last month. He mostly moves in a wheelchair due to knee problems, but walked from the plane to the delegation that was waiting for him with only the help of a cane.
Francis paid a lightning visit to Hungary in 2021 during a stopover on his way to Slovakia, then celebrated an open-air mass in the capital. He says he will come again to see “the people who are so close to his heart”. More than 60 percent of Hungarians are Roman Catholic. He called the visit in advance “a journey to the center of Europe, where the icy wind of war is felt.”
Pardon for right-wing extremists
In a remarkable gesture, Hungarian President Katalin Novák pardoned a number of convicted right-wing extremists on the occasion of the Pope’s visit. Like Prime Minister Orbán, she is a member of the ruling Fidesz party. Among the released prisoners is György Budahazy, leader of the ultra-nationalist group Arrow Cross
Nine other supporters of extreme right-wing movements have also been released. They were convicted of carrying out attacks on the homes of left-wing and liberal politicians. According to Hungarian media, Budahazy left the prison on horseback, shouting “Freedom!”
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